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Marriage 911

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Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

At The Marriage Recovery Center, Dr. Hawkins promotes '3 Days To a New Marriage, Guaranteed!' Contact TMRC for a free 20-minute consultation.

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Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Have you ever considered the fact that every word you say—every word—has the power to either hurt or heal?

You may think I exaggerate the power of words. A misspoken word here, a sarcastic quip there can hardly hurt a marriage, so you think. When your mate makes a snide comment about the burnt toast at breakfast, it can’t be held against you if you snipe back that he never seems to notice when his toast is made to perfection. Tit for tat can’t do harm. Right? Think again.

Before you click to another, more comfortable page, hear me out.

Imagine gathering at your favorite coffee shop for a latte. It is filled with your favorite people, your best friends. The room is filled with laughter and chatting. You join in, telling a joke or tow. While you don’t take yourself or them too seriously, you also understand a very important truth: every word spoken has the power to hurt or heal, and can never be taken back. Knowing this, you’re prepared with your best behavior.

Walking, biking, or jogging with your friends, and later sitting over your hot drink, you never think of chiding your friends for their behavior. You never think of ridiculing them. You think twice, or even three times, before offering unsolicited advice. You’re never sarcastic. You don’t shoot passive-aggressive barbs. You know thoughtless action destroys prized friendships.

You leave your friends feeling energized, excited, and ready to face your day. Somewhere between this enlivening encounter and home to your mate, something changes. The rules change. Whereas with your friends you know you must follow certain protocol—practicing manners and gentle respect—or be forever banned from The Circle, something changes on your way into your driveway.

Somewhere between the car and the door to your home, you become lax. You let down your guard. You slip into a lazy, disrespectful attitude, and a close inspection of the words you speak shows it.

If you’re like millions of others, you hardly greet your mate when you enter the house. You throw your coat on the couch and grab something to soothe your jagged nerves. Maybe it’s the remote, the paper, the controls to a computer game—anything. But, because of the great divide between you and your mate, you don’t look to him/her to offer soothing, understanding words.

Fairly quickly your mate says something that is slightly offensive and the war of words begins. Not nice words. Not encouraging words. Not words that build up or build a bridge between the two of you. No, these are hurtful words.

    “Why didn’t you pick up something for dinner?”
    “Can’t you help with the kids?”
    “You don’t have to play on the computer again, do you?”
    “You never accept anything I say?”
    “Why are you always so critical of me?”

One stinging, critical phrase leads to a defensive, stinging retort. The fight is on. The fight actually never stopped. There was simply a break in the action. Going to work can sometimes feel like a reprieve from the verbal violence that occurs regularly in the home.

If this sounds familiar, don’t feel alone. As I said, millions of other couples slip into this kind of derogatory, disrespectful language. Christian couples, praying couples, Bible-reading couples fall into this terrible pattern of interacting.

Just the other day, I met with a couple who shared their utter despair with me.

“We’ve been married for 10 years,” Debbie said. “We have two wonderful children who have heard us fighting their entire lives. I feel terrible for them.”

She paused to wipe tears from her eyes.

“We’ve gone to counseling a couple of times, but have never stuck with it. An hour a week seems like a drop in the bucket for what we need. Jerry [her husband] never seems very excited about going, so we settle back into bickering.”

I listened as Jerry tearfully nodded and confirmed what Debbie was saying was true. Devout Christians, they still couldn’t seem to live out Ephesians 4:29: “Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth….” Feeling like a failure, Jerry wondered why, as a Christian, he slipped into name-calling, sarcasm, ridiculing, and all the behaviors he knew were so destructive.

I sat quietly and listened as Jerry and Debbie shared their despair. I then offered hope by sharing my experience with them.

First, take responsibility for your words. Understand that every word you say to your mate either builds them up or tears them down. Every attitude you bring in the door of your home either is uplifting, or degrading. Watch how you communicate and be open to feedback about what kind of language you use in your marriage.

Second, every couple has communication challenges. You’re not alone. Even the most well-adjusted couple on the planet must work at healthy communication. We often portray our best front to friends and family, but behind the scenes we become lax and relate in destructive ways.

Third, marriage has unique challenges. It never comes naturally. We can never completely relax, especially in our marriage. It is where the real challenge of healthy relating takes place. Marriage contains challenges not found with friends or the workplace.

Fourth, it takes significant effort, and practice, to learn healthy communication skills. They usually cannot be fully mastered by reading a book or attending a few counseling sessions. Many need Depth Marriage Counseling, where you sit with a coach/counselor who watches your interactions closely and helps you understand where you are making mistakes.

Fifth, even after learning communication and conflict resolution skills, you need to practice, practice, and practice them some more. Don’t get discouraged as you struggle to discover a new way of relating. Like learning a foreign language or any new skill, it won’t necessarily come easy. Don’t give up.

Sixth, one person, changing their response, can alter the pattern of communication. You can decide not to engage in a verbal battle. You can refuse to offer a defensive retort. You can choose to offer encouraging words that build your mate up. You can insist on ongoing couples counseling.

Finally, pray for God’s guidance. The Holy Spirit is our greatest counselor and will guide us into truth. Be prepared for conviction as the Counselor reveals areas needing change. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 13) Pray that the Holy Spirit reveals words that must be changed.

I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about Depth Marriage Counseling, or for further information or advice on Marriage Intensives or consultations on what may be needed to assist you in your marriage. Please see more about my work at and, sharing your concerns and insights at

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 3:36 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Wow!!Really powerful!!Thanks for the advice.I am always looking for ways to be a better husband and father,thanks
Left by D Girome on Feb 16, 2011 11:47 PM

# RE: Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Great information. I am a single women who is not in a relationship with a mate however I have a question about communication in general that maybe you can help with. I love the quote by an unknown author that states "Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintence, or a stranger" and I have always been very careful not to offer such criticism especially when unsolicited. I have been the reciepient of unsolicited advice from Christians who beleive that this is the biblical, right thing to do. I find it very rude and hurtful and don't really know how to respond to such remarks, especially when they are just the other person's opinion or as often is the case, it is in regard to something they know little or nothing about. What is the best way to communicate that unless you are requesting their advice that you are not interested in their thoughts?
Left by COG childofgod on Feb 17, 2011 6:47 PM

# RE: Hurtful Words, Healing Words

My comment is that I try ways to enrich our marriage, but my Husband is never interested in anything that I might think would be good for us. He only seems to enjoy hunting, fishing and being around his buddies. I don't think he has any respect for me or even considers me in anything that he does. When he is around the house, he finds little things to do outside or out in the pasture. Even if it's just sitting on his tractor to avoid me. If I do make a comment, he gets very defensive and uses hurting words. It's very lonely and hurtful where I live. He refuses to talk about anything. I think we're both depressed. He's a recovering, physically abusive, alcoholic. No matter what I say, I can't get through to him. He's also a control freak. Keeps everything hidden from me. He lies to me, and when I confront him, he storms out, or gets uncontrolably angry. I am afraid of his temper, and I've been the victom of his anger many times. Help!
Left by Betsy Ha Ha on May 21, 2011 4:18 PM

# RE: Hurtful Words, Healing Words

To Betsy...I have been there. My husband always found something else to do instead of spending time with me, which is what i desired. I wanted to feel important of his time. He also seldom talked about his feelings, when he did, it was always about what I didnt do around the house or not being a good parent. He treated me like his daughter, not his wife. My husband too, would get mad when i brought this up. Men do not have the same minds like us women. we must learn how to listen and process what the other person means. Like the 5th statement is.. we need to learn a new language. A great book for both of you to read is "Wild at Heart" by John Eldridge. (a great book for the outdoorsmen like your husband) Your husband may be hurting from his past, way before you both ever met. and may not know how to deal with his pain. They also have a book for women called “Captivating” If he does not like to read, read it to him! you both will get deep understanding on how each other think.
Left by jenAric on Jun 15, 2011 2:36 PM